MATSEC examiners label English ‘O’ level candidates ‘incompetent’

Candidates’ incompetence in the use of the English language ‘clear in a piece of free writing, be it a paragraph, an essay or an answer to a question in their own words’

16-year-old students are leaving school on completion of their secondary education with a poor command of English, a report issued by the MATSEC examination board said.
16-year-old students are leaving school on completion of their secondary education with a poor command of English, a report issued by the MATSEC examination board said.

Candidates for an English ‘O’ level examination have impressed their examiners for a very wrong reason: their “low level of grammatical accuracy”.

“That 16-year old students should be leaving school on completion of their secondary education with a poor command of English is a matter of great concern,” a report issued by the MATSEC examination board said.

Praising candidates for generally performing well in the oral component of the examination, a test report on the Secondary Education Certification (SEC) exam in English lamented their writing skills.

“The candidates’ incompetence in the use of the English language was clear in a piece of free writing, be it a paragraph, an essay or an answer to a question in their own words,” the report says.

According to the report, standards in English can only be improved “through a great effort to instil in these young people an increased awareness of the importance of English as an international language”.

Most importantly students should be encouraged to practise the language in all its forms and not regard it merely as a school subject.

Among the grammatical shortcomings identified in the report was the incorrect use of adverbs: ‘oftenly’, ‘evently’, and ‘fastly’ were some of the most commonly incorrect words given in an exercise on the use of adverbs.

Marks were lost for grammatical errors across the whole range of writing tasks, despite the fact that candidates were specifically advised to pay attention to grammar, spelling and punctuation.

Grammar

The high incidence of grammatical mistakes made it more than evident that a substantial number of candidates had not mastered the basic rules, examiners said. The use of the tenses seemed to have been a major stumbling block, with candidates using the Past and Present Continuous and Past, and Present Perfect tenses when the use of the Present Simple or the Past Simple was called for.

One example was “I had sent the selfie after I was putting on my blue tshirt”. The correct use of the Present Perfect also seemed to pose a problem, with many candidates failing to use it to express time up to the present and opting for the Past Simple instead.

Another common mistake was the indiscriminate use of the Future ‘will’ and the Conditional ‘would’.

Another weakness appeared in the use of pronouns. Many showed an inability to distinguish between the Relative Pronouns ‘who’ and ‘which’, and in a few cases mistakes were made in the use of the Personal Pronouns ‘we’, ‘us’, ‘I’, and ‘me’.

There were also many cases when candidates failed to use the non-sexist pronouns ‘they’ and ’them’ to refer to an individual of either sex as, for example: “A student uses his computer on a daily basis” – rather than the non-sexist “their computer”.

Quite a good number of candidates forfeited marks for poor spelling, and very few indeed produced essays with flawless spelling: “The misspelling of function words, such as their/there, where/were, it’s/its, thought/taught, then/than continues to plague the candidates’ writing.”

Moreover, a number of candidates just put an apostrophe before or after the plural ‘s’ for no reason and omitted it when it was needed to denote possession.

In a substantial number of essays, difficulties with punctuation were evident. Candidates seemed unable to distinguish between a comma and a full stop and used them indiscriminately, while very few made use of the other punctuation marks. The haphazard use of the capital letter was common with capital letters used unnecessarily in mid-sentence. In some cases the pronoun ‘I’ was written in the lower case.

Only 4% achieved a grade A while 35% either failed or got a Grade 6 or 7, which is not accepted for entry to Junior College.

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